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Hirji re-issues orders for shopping and dining

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In a letter issued to a variety of business owners including bars, restaurants, wineries and shopping malls, Niagara’s acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji has put them on notice he is issuing orders under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act that will add “modest restrictions” to local businesses.

While Niagara’s COVID-19 case count continues to drop and daily case numbers also fall, Niagara Public Health says it’s concerned about the virus variants that are spreading throughout the Greater Toronto Area.  Niagara’s Public Health officials are calling this time “a precarious point in the pandemic.”

The restrictions are separated into two business categories, Food Premises and secondly, Shopping and Retail and come into affect Feb. 22.

Under Food Premises, Dr. Hirji is reissuing an updated version of the order that was previously issued in the Fall of 2020. The updated order includes things like a record of information on every patron including contact and asking the relevant COVID-19 related medical questions. Proof that patrons are from the same household or allowing only two people at a table who do not live in the same home but are essential to each other’s physical and mental health. In addition daily screening of all employees musts also take place and customers must be seated at tables at least two metres apart or separated by a barrier like plexiglass.

“Research continues to build that in-person dining is inherently risky given that it involves close interaction over a lengthy period of time without masks,” explained Hirji in his letter. He said he believes it strikes the best balance between reducing risk and allowing in-person dining.

In terms of shopping and retail businesses orders, Hirji is requesting owners to actively monitor their businesses to ensure they are following the guidelines set out by the province in terms of number of customers allowed in the stores as well as line-ups to ensure people are waiting in line at a distance of two meters apart. All customers and staff in the mall or store must wear a face covering that covers their nose, chin and mouth and employees must be screened daily. Retail businesses must provide hand sanitizer at every entrances and exit.

The shopping and retail orders are aligned with both Hamilton and Halton Region.

Dolores Fabiano, Executive Director of the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce, said “While the process of reopening is slow and painful for many, these incremental steps are getting us closer to a reopening of our businesses.  Managing the situation as opposed to reacting will provide us with a better outcome.”

Fabiano went on to say, “Retail and restaurants in particular have been hard hit, and we need to give them the opportunity to survive. They have put a lot of effort into ensuring a safe environment for employees, and customers alike. It is frustrating that we are in this situation but I do believe that everyone is working towards the same goal of a safe return to a strong economy.”

Hugo Chesshire, Director of Policy and Government Relations for the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce said the organization is seeking some clarification on Public Health’s announcement and preferred not to comment until that conversation took place.

It is noted in the communication provided to businesses by Dr. Hirji that they do have the right to a hearing with the Health Services and Appeal Review Board should they disagree. However, it’s also noted that the order takes effect and remains in effect on a business while the appeal process is ongoing.

Failure for businesses to comply with the order can result in a fine of up to $5,000.

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